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When Did Leaders vs. Managers Become a Battle Between Good and Evil?

Earlier this month I challenged our propensity to reverence leaders over followers. But this isn’t the only lofty position that leaders enjoy over another working class. Lately I’ve come across all kinds of comparative infographics and articles that juxtapose the traits of leaders with those of managers. What’s maddening is that these trite platitudes put a saint-like halo over leaders, while at the same time paint managers in a dour light. You’ve probably seen these as well, statements such as:

  • Managers criticize; leaders reward.
  • Managers focus on the bad; leaders emphasize the good.
  • Managers are impersonal and passive; leaders are personal and active.

The practice of differentiating leadership from management in this way completely misses the point. As the Wall Street Journal points out, “Leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves.” A better practice would be to define what a good leader does, what a good manager does, and map out how the two engage with one another in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Here are just a few of my thoughts:

  • Leaders figure out what needs to be done; managers figure out how to do it.
  • Leaders motivate and inspire; managers channel motivation toward achieving goals.
  • Leaders innovate; managers capture value from innovation through efficiency.

What are your thoughts? How does a good manager help your organization accomplish its goals?

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